Inequality warning over increasing automation in the workplace

Ministers are being urged to intervene to ensure the spreading use of robots in the workplace does not result in rising levels of inequality.

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank said increasing automation had the potential to deliver a powerful boost to the productivity of UK business, bringing a future of "economic plenty".

However it warned that unless the change was properly managed by government, there was a danger that the benefits would be "narrowly" concentrated in the hands of investors and small numbers of highly-skilled workers while the rest lost out.

The report estimates that jobs generating wages of £290 billion a year - representing a third of all wages and earnings from labour in the UK economy - have the potential to be automated.

However it rejects the idea that the country is heading for a "post human" economy, arguing that most jobs are likely to be "reallocated" rather than eliminated, as output increases and new sources of wealth are created.

As a result, it said, the biggest challenge for ministers would be to ensure that the rewards of automation were fairly distributed.

"Without effective management from the Government, inequality is likely to increase because of unequal ownership of capital and highly-skilled workers being able to command higher wages and better jobs," the IPPR said.

Among its proposals was a call for the creation of a new authority for the ethical use of robotics and artificial intelligence, modelled on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, to be established to regulate the future use of automating technologies.

A Government spokesman said: "We have a resilient and diverse labour market in the UK, demonstrated by the latest record-breaking figures showing more people in work than ever before.

"Whether it's in cyberspace or on the shop floor, advances in technology bring new jobs and it's only right that we embrace these opportunities, support new skills and help more people get into employment to secure a workforce of the future.

"As part of our modern industrial strategy and its artificial intelligence grand challenge, the Government is committed to ensuring that the UK is to able to seize the opportunities and overcome the obstacles that exist in this area.

"Government is working closely with industry to ensure the benefits of new technologies are felt across different sectors of the economy up and down the country, while creating new high-skill, well-paid jobs."

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